Tom Cruise. Summer action film. Somehow that's not quite enough these days; we want, or at least need, something more, and director Michael Mann and screenwriter Stuart Beattie pretty much give it to us in their new film "Collateral." "Collateral" (a slightly misleading title) is the story of two men spending a long night of the soul together. Los Angeles cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) takes on passenger Vincent (Tom Cruise), who turns out to be a contract killer with five targets to reach and dispose of before catching a 6AM flight out of LAX.
What adds texture to the film is that writer Beattie lets the film's structure breathe; people talk to each other, share confidences, reveal weaknesses. So although the film begins with Cruise surreptitiously exchanging briefcases with another man in the Los Angeles airport, a trope we've seen a hundred times in thrillers, and we think the film is straightforward, we are taken away instead to Max, starting his night shift at the garage and picking up another passenger, Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), with whom he bets on alternate routes to take to downtown. If she wins she gets a free ride. But he knows the city inside out; "Seven minutes," he says, and seven it is. They talk about their work, Max tells her of his plans to start a limousine service. "This (cab driving) is just part-time," he says. She's intrigued by him and gives him her card; maybe he'll call her.
Only then does Max pick up Vincent, who tells him he's involved in a real-estate deal that requires him to visit five people that night. He gives Max $600 to stay with him till he's through. At the first stop, while Max waits with the cab in the alley behind the house, there is the sudden crash of a body landing on the roof of the cab and smashing the windshield.
To say more would be unfair here, but there is a beautiful scene later in the film, when Vincent takes Max to a jazz joint whose owner, Daniel (Barry Shabaka Henley), plays trumpet with the house group and then sits down to tell the story of how Miles Davis came to the club one night in 1967 to jam, and let the 17-year-old Daniel play with him.
In the course of the film illusions are exposed and shattered, courage is found when least expected, and - although the end is a reworked cliché - it is never less than compelling. It is interesting to compare Michael Mann's directing here with that of Paul Greengrass in "The Bourne Supremacy," another summer thriller. Greengrass chopped his film into bits, with more than a thousand little edits that added nothing to the tension or power of the story. Mann, though, is a master of film editing. He too uses a myriad of short shots, but every one contributes to the power of his film. There's not a wasted moment anywhere. And by the accretion of his shots he gives us a portrait of Los Angeles at night that is unlike any other I can recall.
While Cruise is the nominal star of the film, the more interesting character is Max, the cab driver. Jamie Foxx plays without mannerisms or self-consciousness; we see into his mind, we understand his fantasies and his frustrations. Cruise, the take-charge guy, is more the tightly-wound, driven, single-minded figure we've often seen before in his films. It's not that he's bad; he's not. It's that there's not quite enough to him in the film. He's just a bit too much like, well, himself.